For three years Hicks was the Dallas Cowboys' business manager. "Soccer players are so much more approachable, so much better grounded," he says. "They're making about the same money that the fan makes. They're pretty worldly and self-sufficient. If they're supposed to make a personal appearance somewhere, you write down the time and place and you can be sure they'll show up. Give [Cowboys receiver] Michael Irvin the time and place and he's...." Hicks mimes tossing a sheet of paper to the wind.
To be sure, most MLS players could scarcely afford to employ self-employed models, given the league's minimum salary of $24,000. The league maximum is $175,000, though signing bonuses and endorsement packages raise the stakes for stars. Are players happy with such pay? "Of course not," says Lalas. "Are we ever? Obviously we want to make as much money as we can. But...."
Lalas was spending a rare day off by watching a Burn-Galaxy game at the Rose Bowl, and he was diverted by an increasingly common sight in the U.S.: a gorgeous green soccer rectangle, unsoiled by a baseball infield, unscarred by gridiron markings.
"But," Lalas continued, his eyes fixed on the emerald pitch as if it were a hypnotist's jewel, "we have a chance to do something important. We can be true pioneers for the sport in this country. We can be like the old baseball players and say, 'We did this for the love of the same.' "